May 10, 2023

Secretary of Defense, in Letter to Sen. Warren, Warns That Senate Republicans’ Indefinite Delay on Military Nominations Jeopardizes National Security

Sec. Austin: “Delays in confirming our general and flag officers pose a clear risk to U.S. military readiness… This indefinite hold harms America’s national security.” “The longer that this hold persists, the greater the risk the U.S. military runs in every theater, every domain, and every service.”

Secretary Austin’s Letter to Senator Warren (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) today released a letter from Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, highlighting how Senator Tommy Tubervillle’s (R-Ala.) indefinite holds preventing the Senate from advancing 196 Department of Defense military nominees poses a clear risk to military readiness and harms national security. Defense Secretary Austin urges swift action to confirm all U.S. general and flag officers. 

In his letter responding to Senator Warren’s April 2023 request asking about the national and military readiness impacts of Senator Tuberville’s holds, Secretary Austin wrote that “delays in confirming our general and flag officers pose a clear risk to U.S. military readiness” and “the longer that this hold persists, the greater the risk the U.S. military runs in every theater, every domain, and every service.” Secretary Austin details how this reckless hold impacts mission vacancies, power projection abroad, knowledge and expertise, servicemembers and families, and sets a perilous precedent. 

“The Secretary of Defense has made clear in no uncertain terms that Senate Republicans are harming American national security by treating military families as political footballs. These U.S. servicemembers have earned their promotions, and if the Senator from Alabama continues this destabilizing and irresponsible inaction, Tuberville is knowingly endangering military readiness and putting our troops at risk,” said Senator Warren. 

“The letter from Secretary Austin confirms what Senate Democrats have been shouting for weeks – Senator Tuberville’s indefinite hold on the confirmation of our general and flag officers is reckless, unprecedented, and harmful to our military readiness,” said Leader Schumer. “Our national security is not a bargaining chip for radical right-wing policies. It is shameful that MAGA Republicans are so hell-bent on eliminating reproductive choice that they are willing to jeopardize America’s standing abroad, the livelihood of service members, and our military readiness. There is no excuse to inject politics into the confirmations of routine military promotions. I hope Senate Republicans read this letter, as well as the letter from the seven former Secretaries of Defense, and convince their colleague to drop this dangerous blockade.” 

“This blockade is recklessly harming U.S. military readiness and derailing the apolitical, merit-based promotions of some of our nation’s best and brightest officers for purely partisan reasons. The overwhelming majority of Americans disagree with these Republican tactics that are hurting hundreds of military families. We’ll continue to fight for our troops until this irresponsible blockade ends,” said Chairman Reed.

Secretary Austin’s letter details the full impacts on national security and risks to military readiness from Senator Tuberville’s indefinite hold, which Secretary Austin described as “unprecedented in… scale and scope.” Senator Tuberville’s hold will delay filling 64 three- and four-star nominations that will become empty within the next four months, including the Chief of Staff for the Army, Chief of Naval Operations, Commandant and Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, Director of the National Security Agency, Commander of United States Cyber Command, and Commander of United States Northern Command. 

  • Unprecedented Mission Vacancies
    • “The tenure of Service Chiefs is limited by law, and thus, incumbents must vacate their positions at the appointed time… these positions oversee more than 1.2 million active and reserve component Service members… Without these leaders in place, the U.S. military will incur an unnecessary and unprecedented degree of risk at a moment when our adversaries may seek to test our resolve.”
    • “The hold causes especially acute, self-inflicted problems in new domains of potential conflict.”
    • “Delays in confirming a large number of one- and two-star general and flag officers jeopardizes our current and future readiness. The Department relies on these experienced leaders to execute tactical actions every day and extend our strategic advantages for the long term… their importance cannot be overstated.” 
  • Diminished Global Standing
    • “...This hold has created unnecessary uncertainty. That diminishes our global standing as the strongest military in the world, which is in large part based on our stable processes and orderly transitions.” 
    • “...Over time, the hold will cause cascading impacts to our readiness and needlessly hinder our ability to meet our  strategic objectives…” 
  • Destabilizing and Irresponsible Risk
    • “The failure to confirm leaders in key roles transfers strategic risk down the chain of command and forces our units to operate with less experienced decision makers in charge. By destabilizing the senior military promotion and rotation process, we put our short- and long-term readiness at significant risk.”
    • “Failure to fill these positions in a timely manner is simply irresponsible.” 
  • Immediate and Long-term Harm for Servicemembers and Military Families
    • “Long-term holds have a corrosive and cascading effect: they prevent our rising officers and their families from being able to predict promotion and rotation windows, which can increase the pressure to leave the military in favor of greater stability.”
    • “The more normal promotion processes are jolted, the more we risk the loss of the diverse warfighting and technical expertise that America needs to confront its 21st-century security challenges.”
    • “Military children will be unable to move to new schools… and outstanding military spouses may not be able to accept or start new jobs because they cannot predict when they could start.” 
  • A Perilous Precedent 
    • “The ripple effects of this unprecedented and unnecessary hold are increasingly troubling. Ultimately, the breakdown of the normal flow of leadership across the Department’s carefully cultivated promotion and transition system will breed uncertainty and confusion across the U.S. military. This hold means uncertainty for our Service members and their families and rising disquiet from our allies and partners, at a moment when our competitors and adversaries are watching.” 

As Chair of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, Senator Warren has fought to reverse Republicans’ reckless and dangerous nominations holds: 

  • On May 2, 2023, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Warren questioned the Secretary of the Air Force about the risks to national security and military readiness posed by the nominations holds. The Secretary warned about “negative impacts” on military families and military retention. 
  • On April 25, 2023, Senator Warren delivered remarks and asked for 35 unanimous consent requests on the Senate floor, calling for the confirmation of 184 top-level military nominations blocked by Senator Tuberville and Republicans. 
  • On April 7, 2023, Senator Warren sent a letter asking Secretary Austin to detail the national security and military readiness impacts of Senator Tuberville’s blanket nominations hold.